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The Buck Stops Here: How to Outsmart Hungry Deer

9 Nov

By Earl Nickel
Special Contributor

Gardeners whose yards are often visited by deer face a perplexing problem: how to keep these normally beloved animals from munching all their vegetables and/or ornamental plants. Deer usually stay in parks or open spaces, plentiful with their native food sources. But prolonged drought has driven a greater number of deer into city gardeners’ yards in search of both food and water. Equal opportunity feeders (unlike certain other critters that only target one type of plant), deer will munch on anything they can reach that is edible. That means almost anything and everything in your garden, be it fruit or flower or a vegetable, is fair game.

So how can you keep Bambi from using your garden as a snack bar? Here are three approaches that work:

BARRIERS

The simplest and most effective way to keep your garden deer-free is to erect fencing to physically prevent deer from getting to your yard. Sometimes this is impractical, especially if there is too large of a space to cover. But where there is a narrow entrance, you can erect a temporary gate made of chicken wire, netting or bamboo stakes. Make sure it is at least 8’ tall as deer can jump anything less than that. You can roll back this temporary gate during the day, as deer mostly arrive at night. Just keep your eye out for the brazen few who are looking for a mid-day snack. You can also employ fencing around immature trees to prevent their tender trunks from being savaged.

DEER SPRAYS AND PELLETS

If you can still find it, powdered Coyote urine is the most effective olfactory deterrent. Unlike all other sprays or pellets, which work due to unpleasantly scented concentrated oils, coyote urine sends a message to invading deer that a predator is nearby. While there is a strong smell when you first open the product, it soon dissipates to human senses. If that isn’t available, I can recommend two other products. Based on customer feedback, Deer Stopper has worked quite well. You spray it on the plants, then refresh it every two weeks. Alternatively, blood meal can be used as a fine granular application. Here again, it’s the strong scent that deters adventurous deer. You can apply it next to individual plants or make a thick line or circle to protect a particular bed.

I also recommend minimizing water sources in your yard. Deer often come into yards looking for a much needed drink then hang around to snack.

DEER RESISTANT PLANTS

The first thing to know is that outside of a handful of poisonous plants, deer may at some time eat all plants. I’ve learned through direct feedback that a lot of the plants on “deer resistant” lists are not always safe to plant in deer infested gardens – in other words, they’ll eat almost anything if they are hungry enough. But all is not lost. Deer know to steer clear of poisonous plants so those are always a safe bet. Two other categories are worth trying – plants with a strong scent and plants that have tough or spiny foliage.

FEARFUL FIVE

Fast-growing “Family Jewels Tree” (Asclepias physocarpa) can easily reach 5′ in its first year!

Start with everybody’s favorite MilkweedAsclepias. Whether you’re planting the native A. speciosa or A. fascicularis or Mexican milkweed (A. curassivica), Monarch butterflies will find it, even as deer stay clear. Euphorbias, with their poisonous sap, are also a great deer-proof choice for a sunny or part shade location. Amazingly diverse in form and size, most share those fabulous heads of chartreuse flowers. E. characias ‘Dwarf’ has especially large heads while E. ‘Blue Haze’ has lovely bluish-gray foliage to add to its appeal.

Euphorbia characias ‘Dwarf’ produces exceptionally big blooming balls on a tidy, compact shrub. Great for bouquets!

Anything from the Solanum (Nightshade) family is safe and a few are appealingly exotic. S. pyracanthum features eye-catching orange spines along its stems while S. quitoense ‘Naranjilla’ offers tropical foliage and curious orange fruits. The highly ornamental S. ‘Navidad, Jalisco’ resembles a purple potato vine and that’s because it is one. Curiously, tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are also nightshade members and thus deer-proof.

Massive wisteria-like clusters of glittery purple blooms cascade off vining Solanum valerianum ‘Navidad, Jalisco’.

For part shade there is the always lovely Foxglove (Digitalis), which comes in a variety of pinks, reds, purples and, of course, white. Want something taller? Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia) is a fabulous and fast growing ornamental, featuring those distinctive large trumpets of nearly every color imaginable. The fragrant, peach-colored ‘Charles Grimaldi’ is a favorite of many a gardener.

Gloriously fragrant night-scented pendulous blooms cover Brugmansia ‘Charles Grimaldi’, a fast-growing small tree/shrub.

SMELLY SELECTIONS

Gardeners with lots of deer-deterring experience love Salvias and Annie’s grows a fabulous selection in every color imaginable. Richly scented natives S. clevelandii ‘Winifred Gilman’ and S. apiana (White Sage) are great additions, while fruity S. elegans (Pineapple Sage) and S. dorisiana (Fruit-Scented Sage) display brilliant red and magenta flowers respectively.

One of our favorite sages, California native Salvia clevelandii ‘Winifred Gilman’ boasts outstanding fragrance and gorgeous whorls of lavender blooms irresistible to hummers!

The delicious pineappley scent of Salvia dorisiana’s tropicalesque heart-shaped leaves make this South American sage a “must-rub”!

Yarrow (Achillea) is an excellent deer resistant selection. This California native is drought tolerant and selections such as A. ‘Red Velvet’ and Rosa Maria’ add a pop of color while A. ‘Salmon Beauty’ offers an ever changing palette of pastel colors.

Achillea millefolium ‘Salmon Beauty’s’ color-shifting rosy-hued umbels stand tall above a lush ferny mound of foliage.

Heliotropium arborescens ‘Alba’ has all the charms of the purple species but is non-dwarfed, vigorous and especially fragrant. Good for mixed sun, it blooms over a long season in Summer and Fall. Hummingbird Mint (Agastache) has become really popular, given its low water tolerance and range of colors and scents – charms that are completely lost on deer. A. rupestris dazzles with its orangish-pink flowers and delicate foliage, while A. ‘Black Adder’ forms a strong upright bush topped with spires of vivid purple flowers.

Dense clubs of luscious purple blooms appear Summer thru Fall on Agastache‘Black Adder’ – a sterile hybrid that’s aces on bloomiferousness, but nil on unwanted reseeding.

Sunset-hued Agastache aurantiaca ‘Coronado’ brings an airy brilliance to full sun gardens. It’s delightfully minty leaves release waves of fragrance when fondled and, like many Agastaches, can be used in herbal teas.

Got shade? No problem when you have literally a dozen different aromatic Plectranthus to use. Short (P. neochilus) or tall (P. barbatus ‘White Rhino’ or P. ecklonii), large-leaved or small, Plectranthus are tough as nails, clay and drought tolerant once established and just darn pretty to behold.

The trifecta of deer resistance: Geranium maderense, Echium webbii and Plectranthus neochilus.

TOUGH CUSTOMERS

Plants also employ tough or spiny foliage as a defense strategy, making them almost inedible to deer and other animals. Most Agaves certainly fit the bill, with thick rigid leaves and often deadly leaf tips. Whale’s Tongue agave (A. ovatifolia) features bluish leaves and spiny tips. The dramatic Giant Mezcal agave (A. valenciana) and the modest-sized A. titanota ‘Blue’ are worthy additions to any dry garden.

Reaching around 6′ across, brilliantly blue Agave ovatifolia “Whale’s Tongue Agave” is exceptionally hardy – down to USDA zone 7b!

California native Ceanothus such as ‘Dark Star’ and ‘Julia Phelps’, with their dense crinkled leaves, are usually a safe bet. Cordylines feature leathery leaves that deer can’t easily bite or chew, making them an excellent choice for a sunny or part shade location. Cordyline ‘Can Can’ and ‘Renegade’ are especially lively selections, brightening containers and beds with strappy and colorful leaves.

Evergreen California native Ceanothus x impressus ‘Dark Star’ produces exceptionally fragrant blue flowers bloom in earliest Spring.

Echiums are famous for three things: being tough and drought tolerant, having exceptionally pretty blue, purple or pink flowers and for being absolute bee and hummingbird magnets. Add to that list the fact that deer dislike their tough, bristly leaves and we have a winner for the dry or xeric garden. 

Brilliant cherry-red Seussian flower towers emerge from a grouping of Echium wildpretii”Tower of Jewels”.

For shade, Hellebores are an easy, long-lived and reliable choice. They’re low and the leaves are often tough. I would stick with japonica hybrids such as the “Lady”-series and “Winter Jewels” selections like ‘Peppermint Ice’ and ‘Onyx Odyssey’, all of which add eye-catching color in late Winter, just when you need it.

One of the most floriferous Hellebores we’ve ever seen! ‘Yellow Lady’ produces masses of chartreuse blooms from late Winter to early Spring.

Helleborus ‘Blue Lady’ boasts sumptuous reddish-purple outward-facing flowers. It’s easy to grow, tough as nails, drought and clay tolerant, and hardy to USDA zone 3!

WHY BOTHER?

The last category of deer resistant plants are those that are either too wispy – largely grasses – or too low for deer to take a fatal interest. Grasses like native Carex pansa or low growing ground covers like California natives Arctostaphylos ‘Emerald Carpet’, Lippia repens and Satureja douglasii or Lampranthus ‘Pink Kaboom’, Fuchsia procumbens and Rubus calycinoides are all hardy and safe selections.

California native groundcover Lippia repens quickly forms a dense mat of minute foliage. The multi-hued flowers are much loved by bees!

An evergreen grass that makes a perfect low-maintenance lawn substitute. California native Carex pansa tops out at 6″ tall and can be mowed or left free-form and meadowy.

Think Like a Plant – Resisting Drought with Kate Frey!

21 Sep

By Kate Frey
Special Contributor

In our summer-dry climate most of us have to water our gardens. The frequency ranges from several times a week in hot inland areas, to once a week in cool coastal areas, or even less frequently if we have planted very drought resistant plants. Plants that require little water are referred to as drought resistant, and gardens that feature them exclusively as xeriscapes. Plants vary greatly in their ability to withstand or evade drought and many from dry climates have developed a number of morphological and physiological strategies to aid in survival. Other factors influencing the drought resistant qualities of each garden depend on plant types, the garden’s location, weather, soil type, depth, exposure, soil organic matter content and mulch.MGPlants take up water through root hairs, most of which are in the top fifteen inches of soil. Plants from desert regions like cacti and succulents often have extensive, shallow, fibrous roots to capture water from light rainfalls. Leaves are reduced to spines and water is stored in swollen leaves and stems. Spines don’t just function as deterrents to predators but serve to break up air currents and minimize transpiration (evaporation of water from plants) across the leaf surface – minimizing water loss.

Spiky Agave leaves help minimize water loss.

Hairs on plant leaves perform the same function as spines to break up air currents and limit water loss across leaves. Some plants have large noticeable hairs such as “Clary Sage”, and others are covered with fine wool like Lamb’s ears, Mulliens like Verbascum olympicum and V. bomyciferum, and French lavender (Lavandula dentata).

Annual plants from summer-dry climates avoid drought by germinating, growing, flowering and setting seed during the rainy season – dying at the end of it. Seed reserves remain dormant until rains allow germination when suitable conditions return. Most California annual wildflowers are in this category and germinate and grow during cool weather when soil is moist, and finish their lifecycles as temperatures warm and the soil dries. Exceptions are the tarweeds (Hemizonia and Madia) that follow this pattern but remain small until spring annuals die, then grow and flower when this competition for space is minimized.

Summer-dormant bulbs like Daffodils and Narcissus evade drought by developing large underground storage units (we call bulbs) during the rainy season to store water and carbohydrates. They weather the dry season in a dormant state. Other examples are our many native bulbs, Freesias, Sparaxis, Ixia, Squill, Tulips, Grape Hyacinth and Crocus. “Naked Ladies” grow abundant foliage during the rainy season that dies in summer. Flower stalks are sent up in summer using the large reserves contained in the huge bulbs.

Some plants have white or silver foliage to reflect light and heat. We often grow them for their strikingly colored foliage. Artemisia, Lambsears, Calocephalus brownii, Santalina, Dusty Miller, Russian Sage, Lavender, some Milkweeds, and Teucrium fruticans have beautiful silver leaves.

Plants like Manzanitas, Olives, many Oaks, Myrtle, Italian Buckthorn, Strawberry Tree, California Buckwheats (Eriogonum sp.) and others have leathery or waxy leaves with the stomata (where respiration and water transpiration occurs) recessed in the bottom of the leaf in deep stomatic crypts. Recessing the stomata in deep crypts limits transpiration. Thick, leathery leaves help reduce water loss.

Other plants have reduced leaf size to minimize water loss. Rosemary, Thyme, Lavender, Olives, Broom, Junipers and Teucrium are examples. These plants may grow slowly due to reduced leaf area for photosynthesis.

Leaves on plants like some Manzanitas turn parallel to the sun to avoid solar interception.

Resinous oils found on the foliage of plants like Sage, Lavender, and Rosemary acts not just to deter animals that eat plants, but these oils evaporate on very hot days and cool plants. These are the resinous odors so apparent to us on warm afternoons.

Some plants drop a portion of their lower leaves as the weather warms. The ground under Madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii) may be littered with dried leaves, though the trees themselves are lush and green. Other plants such as Jerusalem Sage (Phlomis) have juvenile leaves that are shed as the season progresses.

California buckeye (Aesculus californica) and California polypody fern (Polypodium californicum) are drought deciduous and go completely dormant in summer even with regular water.

The Olive tree and many Manzanitas combine the strategies of silver foliage, reduced leaf size, and leathery leaves to resist drought. Lavender plants combine reduced leaf size, silver, and wooly foliage plus resinous oils to resist it. What other examples do you see in your garden?

Med walk

Soil type is a big factor in developing watering schedules. As sandy soils have large pores and high porosity, water moves through these soils quickly and is not retained. Increasing the organic matter content by either incorporating compost and/or mulching with it increases the water holding capacity of sandy soils tremendously. Clay soil particles are tiny and evenly dispersed. These soils have a high water holding capacity, and poor drainage. Incorporating compost and gypsum helps these soils to aggregate so water will penetrate more easily and be held in the soil in beneficial quantities and ratios with air (oxygen), necessary for plant roots and soil micro and macroorganisms. Mulch will also increase porosity in soils over time. Make sure to use compost or composted greenwaste/manures rather than woodchips. Woodchips rob the soil of nitrogen as they break down. Loam soils generally have good water holding capacity, but this is also helped by compost. Compost is a key factor in developing soils that aid in your plants ability to resist drought.

Ch3.H1bi perimeter bed

These themes and much other practical information designed to help you create successful, healthy beautiful gardens is what we are teaching at our new garden school – The American Garden School.

The American Garden School was created to address a growing need in the U.S. for quality garden education. Many of us do not have the time or desire to commit to a formal series of horticulture-based classes at a university, yet wish to gain quality education to better our landscapes, convert our lawns, or develop a kitchen garden.

Our goal is to be the go-to garden school for comprehensive, quality, tested and fun garden education for homeowners, garden enthusiasts, landscape practitioners, school gardens and very small farmers. Our courses are designed to help you generate a successful and beautiful garden, with themes pertinent to the West such as drought tolerance, ecology, sustainable practices, and time saving. We believe in systems, efficiency, technology, science based practices, and most importantly, that a garden should bring you joy.

These intensive courses are a remarkable opportunity to learn practical and tested methods for creating successful gardens.  Two-time Chelsea Flower Show gold medal winner, educator and renowned horticulturist and designer Kate Frey and local landscape manager and designer, Christa Moné, will share their expertise developed over many years in Northern California and internationally. Kate and Christa bring a wealth of information in educating people on how to create gardens that are remarkably beautiful, healthy, productive, creative and efficient to care for.

Upcoming Classes:

THE EDIBLE GARDEN-FALL/WINTER
@ CORNERSTONE SONOMA

SEPTEMBER 28, 2017
9:30AM-12:30PM

This ain’t your grandma’s veggie garden! We want to raise the bar on the concept of how we plan and plant our edible gardens, and show you that they can be just as beautiful as any other- and filled with delicious things to eat all year round!

Whether you like precise rows, or an impressionistic composition of verdant plants, this intensive, practical course will get you on the right track with simple principles and techniques to consistently generate a multitude of healthy, delicious vegetables (and flowers!). Seasonal focus will be fall and winter.

FALL OPEN GARDEN DAY & WORKSHOP
@ KATE FREY’S GARDEN

OCTOBER 7, 2017
HOPLAND,CA

Back by popular demand! Please join us for this great opportunity to see the principles and practices of The American Garden School expressed and demonstrated in Kate and her husband, Ben’s unique experiential and flower-filled garden in scenic Hopland, inland Mendocino county this fall.

Profusely planted, full of flowers, bees, bird song, and rustic structures created from wood Ben has resuscitated, it has many unique seating areas, and places to explore. Visitors call it an instant sanctuary. It is eight years old and is composed of native plants and habitat plants that attract and support a wide variety of insects and birds as well as delighting our senses. There is a vegetable garden, many rustic structures, a hermit’s hut, chicken palace (with the cutest chickens ever), bar, wood library, Swiss Chalet house, and whimsical gateposts. Surprises abound! Bring a lunch!

The Workshop will cover design, site preparation, building health soil, weed control, bees and wildlife in the garden, plant care, and will look at some great plant varieties. It will end with an irrigation system demonstration.

The Open Garden is available for people to wander and enjoy the unique and relaxing spaces of the garden.

PRACTICAL SOILS & IRRIGATION
@ CORNERSTONE SONOMA

OCTOBER 20, 2017
9:30AM-12:30PM

Why do so many plants and gardens fail to thrive despite our best efforts and intentions? Soil health and irrigation are too often overlooked in our garden planning and maintenance, and can feel overwhelming to take on.  Healthy soil creates healthy plants, yet what is healthy soil and how do we create it? Irrigation is essential to any garden or landscape, but how does it all work? Do we till, or can we choose not to? Different plant categories such as vegetables, annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees each require different approaches to soil development and watering.

Design Intensive
@ CORNERSTONE SONOMA

November 6, 2017
10:00AM-2:30PM

Details will follow soon! Please Check website

Contact us: https://americangardenschool.com/contact/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Garden

9 Feb

The sun is shining and the birds are singing! Even though much of the country is still blanketed under snow and ice (brrrrr!), we’re pretty lucky here in USDA zone 10 to be able to  garden year-round (not that we’re gloating or anything).

mannequin bed

Each year, Annie completely replants our demonstration gardens to keep things fresh and exciting. It’s dramatic to see everything ripped out and a new garden taking shape from scratch, but new designs and combinations provide inspiration for both us and our visitors!

planting

Back in November, she turned over the soil, took out the spent annuals and cut the perennials down to the ground. She ditched the ugly plants, the unruly plants and anything that didn’t fit with the new planting scheme taking shape in her head. This made room for lots of new babies. The goal – and challenge! – is to have everything bloom at the same time for our Big, FAB Spring Party on April 9 and 10.

baby plants

November is also when she planted biennials like Digitalis and some varieties of Verbascums and Campanulas, along with perennials like Alonsoa meridionalis, Delphiniums and Nicotiana alata ‘Lime Green.’ Of course, all of these plants can go in the ground right now for May or June bloom!

baby plants1

Right now, if you were to drop into the nursery, you would find her still planting a few perennials, as well as slower growing annuals like Orlaya grandiflora, Agrostemma githago, Omphalodes linifolia and Cynoglossum amabile. It’s also a good time to put in foliage plants like Heucheras, Rumex and grasses. We planted a few Sweet Peas in November and will plant some again soon, so we’ll have a succession of frilly, fragrant blooms from April to June – longer with deadheading!

planting

Very soon, the faster blooming annuals like Poppies and California native “Baby Blue Eyes” and Eschscholzias (Cal Poppies) will go in the ground – but remember – we’re shooting for early April bloom. So you can definitely plant them right now or anytime really until the end of March or beginning or April for later bloom.

Don’t forget to protect your little babies from slugs and snails! We use Sluggo, a non-toxic iron-phosphate based bait that is safe for pets and kids. Snails are ravenous and they’ll chow down on those delicious little CA natives until they are but stubs in the ground. You won’t be very happy if that happens – and neither will the plants.

lunaria_rosemary_verey

Even though the goal is to have everything bloom-at-the-same-time, sometimes the weather doesn’t get the memo. A cold and rainy Winter will slow everything down, while sunny weather in December and January can result in a massive bloom-a-thon in March. So we aim for the middle and hope for the best. And it usually works out pretty well!

spring is coming!